The Globe needs to hold itself to the same #MeToo standard as everyone else

Update: I am hearing the Globe was already working on a story about the situation before Kirk and Callahan went public. Good. Original item below.

Kirk Minihane and Gerry Callahan just wrapped up their Friday show on WEEI Radio (93.7 FM) after having spent most of the last hour talking about rumors that a Boston Globe journalist has left the paper following unspecified sexual-harassment charges. These rumors have been rampant within media and political circles the past few days, but they are unconfirmed. Kirk and Callahan ended the hour without directly identifying the journalist as a harasser, though they managed to get it out there indirectly.

What I don’t understand is why any news organization would risk letting someone else expose its own internal problems. The Globe has done great reporting on sexual harassment in the post-Harvey Weinstein world, from the plight of restaurant workers to the husband of Massachusetts Senate president Stan Rosenberg, now on leave while officials conduct an investigation. The Globe needs to hold itself to the same standard.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Advertisements

Swartz case leads Media Nation’s top 10 of 2013

Aaron Swartz speaking in 2012
Aaron Swartz speaking in 2012

Last January, not long after the young Internet genius Aaron Swartz committed suicide, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate wrote powerfully about the abusive prosecutorial tactics that may have led to his death.

Swartz faced a lengthy federal prison sentence for downloading academic articles at MIT without authorization. Even though the publisher, JSTOR, declined to press charges, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz brought a case agains Swartz under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. As Silverglate put it, the law is “a notoriously broad statute enacted by Congress seemingly to criminalize any use of a computer to do something that could be deemed bad.”

Silverglate’s article was republished in Media Nation with the permission of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, where it originally appeared. And it was far and away the most viewed article in Media Nation in 2013.

Today we present Media Nation’s top 10 posts for 2013, based on statistics compiled by WordPress.com. They represent a range of topics — from the vicissitudes of talk radio to a media conflict of interest, from Rolling Stone’s controversial cover image of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the sad, sudden death of The Boston Phoenix.

The top 10 is by no means representative of the year in media. Certainly the biggest story about journalism in 2013 involved the National Security Agency secrets revealed by Edward Snowden to The Guardian and The Washington Post — a story that did not make the cut at Media Nation.

Here, then, is our unrepresentative sample for the past 12 months.

1. Harvey Silverglate on the Aaron Swartz case (Jan. 24). Few people were more qualified to weigh in on U.S. Attorney Ortiz’s abusive tactics than Silverglate, my friend and occasional collaborator, who several years ago wrote “Three Felonies a Day,” a book on how the federal justice system has spun out of control. But Silverglate’s take wasn’t the only article about Swartz to generate interest in Media Nation. The aftermath of Swartz’s suicide also came in at No. 11 (“The Globe turns up the heat on Carmen Ortiz,” Jan. 11) and No. 13 (“Aaron Swartz, Carmen Ortiz and the meaning of justice,” Jan. 14). In a bit of poetic justice, a project Swartz was working on at the time of his death — software that allows whistleblowers to submit documents without being identified — was unveiled by The New Yorker just several months after his suicide.

2. The New Republic’s new owner crosses a line (Jan. 28). A little more than a year ago, the venerable New Republic was saved by Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who is using some of his fortune to restore the magazine to relevance and fiscal health. But he crossed an ethical line last January when he took part in an interview with President Obama, whose campaign he had worked on, and tossed a series of softball questions his way. At the time I wrote that Hughes was guilty of “no more than a minor misstep.” So how did it rise to No. 2? It turns out that a number of right-leaning websites picked up on it, bringing a considerable amount of traffic to Media Nation that I normally don’t receive.

3. Dailies go wild over sports controversies (Aug. 30). Four months after publishing this item, I find it hard to make heads or tails of what was going on. But essentially Globe-turned-Herald sportswriter Ron Borges contributed to a Rolling Stone article on the Aaron Hernandez murder case, which generated some tough criticism from both the Globe and the well-known blog Boston Sports Media Watch. That was followed almost immediately by a Globe article on the ratings collapse of sports radio station WEEI (AM 850), which brought yet more tough talk from, among others, ’EEI morning co-host Gerry Callahan, who also happens to write a column for the Herald. Yes, Boston is a small town.

4. Rolling Stone’s controversial cover (July 17). I thought it was brilliant. I still do. The accusion that Rolling Stone was trying to turn Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into some sort of pop-culture hero is absurd and offensive — and not borne out by the well-reported article that the cover was designed to illustrate.

5. Glenn Ordway walks the ratings plank (Feb. 14). Ordway built sports talker WEEI into a ratings monster only to see its numbers crater in the face of competition from the Sports Hub (WBZ-FM, 98.5). Ordway was by no means the problem with WEEI. But station management decided it could no longer afford his $500,000 contract, and so that was it for the Big O.

6. A big moment for The Boston Globe (Dec. 17). It was actually a big year for the Globe, from its riveting coverage of the marathon bombing and the standoff that led to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the paper’s acquisition by Red Sox principal owner John Henry. But two days in mid-December were emblematic of the paper’s continuing excellence and relevance — a long, detailed exposé of the Tsarnaev family that revealed Dzhokhar, rather than his older brother, Tamerlan, may have been the driving force behind the bombing; an investigation into a case of alleged “medical child abuse” that pitted a Connecticut family against Children’s Hospital; and a nationally celebrated series of tweets by staff reporter Billy Baker about a Boston teenager from a poor family who had been admitted to Yale.

7. The Boston Phoenix reaches the end of the road (March 14). A stalwart of the alternative-weekly scene and my professional home from 1991 to 2005, the Phoenix was a voice of incalculable importance. But with even the legendary Village Voice struggling to survive, the alt-weekly moment may have passed. At the time of its death, the Phoenix had more than 100,000 readers — but little revenue, as advertising had dried up and both the print edition and the website were free. I scribbled a few preliminary thoughts in this post, and later wrote something more coherent for PBS MediaShift.

8. The return of Jim Braude and Margery Eagan (Feb. 6). Eagan and Braude’s morning show was the one bright spot on WTKK Radio, an otherwise run-of-the-mill right-wing talk station that had been taken off the air a month earlier. So it was good news indeed when the pair was hired to host “Boston Public Radio” from noon to 2 p.m. on public station WGBH (89.7 FM). (Note: (I am a paid contributor to WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press,” where Eagan is a frequent panelist.)

9. Joe Scarborough grapples with history — and loses (Feb. 17). Asking cable blowhard Scarborough to write a review for The New York Times Book Review about the relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon could have been a smart, counterintuitive move. But it only works if the writer in question is, you know, smart.

10. The bell tolls for WTKK Radio (Jan. 3). As I already mentioned, Jim Braude and Margery Eagan were able to walk away from the rubble of WTKK, which was shut down by corporate owner Greater Media and turned into an urban music station. Just a few years earlier the station had been a ratings success with trash-talking hosts like Jay Severin and Michael Graham. But tastes change — sometimes for the better.

Photo (cc) by Maria Jesus V and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Globe, Herald at center of multimedia sports battle

Aaron Hernandez
Aaron Hernandez

The week before Labor Day is usually a slow one, but the last few days have featured some hot Globe-on-Herald action (by proxy). If you haven’t been following it, here’s your guide to catching up.

On Tuesday, Rolling Stone published an article offering new information about former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, who faces first-degree murder charges. I haven’t read the article, but you can. According to various summaries, including this one, Hernandez reportedly carried a gun at all times, used angel dust and did not get along with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

So where’s the Globe-Herald angle? The article was written by Paul Solotaroff and Ron Borges — the latter being a former Boston Globe sportswriter who now toils at the Boston Herald.

Borges’ contribution prompted a tough blog post on Wednesday by Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch. His headline — “Plagiarist Ruins Perfectly Good Rolling Stone Feature” — sets the tone for what follows. Borges, as those of you without long memories might not know, left the Globe under a cloud in 2007 after he was found to have committed something akin to plagiarism in his Sunday football notes column.

I wrote about Borges’ departure at the time, and, as you will see, I thought he got a bad rap, given that the Sunday notes columns produced by him and other beat reporters included this disclaimer: “material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.” Is it really plagiarism when you announce in advance that you’re lifting other people’s work?

Allen’s diatribe turned out to be just the opening act. On Thursday, the Globe’s Ben Volin went after the Rolling Stone article in a story that carried the deceptively mild headline “What Rolling stone got right, wrong on Aaron Hernandez.” Though Volin allows that Solotaroff and Borges did “a thorough job of recounting Hernandez’s sordid past,” he goes on to say that “the story also is filled with sensationalism, hearsay, convenient fact-bending, and even one blatant falsity.”

Whoa. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it in the Globe. And though I’m not in a position to judge the accuracy or fairness of the case that Volin lays out, it makes for a pretty entertaining read. I’d love to see Borges respond in the Herald.

(Both the Globe and the Herald today report Patriots president Jonathan Kraft’s refutation of the Rolling Stone article.)

As if this weren’t enough, the Globe on Thursday also ran a front-page story on the ratings collapse of sports radio station WEEI (AM 850) in the face of a challenge by upstart WBZ-FM (98.5 FM), better known as “The Sports Hub.” The article was written by business reporter Callum Borchers, a terrific young journalist who I had the privilege of getting to know when he was part of Northeastern’s graduate journalism program a couple of years ago.

The Herald angle is that Borchers devotes a good chunk of his story to WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan” show, and Gerry Callahan is a Herald columnist. On its website, the station emphasizes the fact that Borchers is a former WEEI intern, something that was not disclosed in the article. You can hear Callahan and Borchers mixing it up on the air in this clip.

Should the Globe have noted that Borchers was once an unpaid summer intern at the station he was writing about? I don’t think disclosure ever hurts, but in this case I’m not sure what it would have added. There is no current conflict. I’ve written critically about many news organizations where I’ve applied for jobs, starting with the Globe and the Herald. (I even had a three-day tryout at the Herald in 1988.) I’m noting that here not by way of disclosure, but to point out how ridiculous it can get.

In any event, as with Borges, I hope Callahan will use his Herald column to respond. Because the three leading topics in Boston, as always, are sports, politics and revenge — with revenge being the most interesting of all.

More: “Dennis & Callahan” third wheel Kirk Minihane unloads on Borchers and the Globe.

Photo (cc) by Jeffrey Beall and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Was Ordway firing more about ratings — or money?

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am old enough to remember Glenn Ordway as the color man back when the legendary Johnny Most was doing Celtics play-by-play.

I have nothing especially profound to say about Ordway’s departure from WEEI Radio (AM 850), a station he helped build into a sports powerhouse and that is now lagging in the ratings behind relative newcomer WBZ-FM (98.5 FM), better known as the Sports Hub. I’m only pointing out the obvious by observing that if this was all about the ratings, then no one is safe, starting with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan.

The one thing I’d keep an eye on is whether the move to dump Ordway was about money as much as it was about ratings. Marc Ganis, a sports business consultant based in Chicago, tells Matt Stout of the Boston Herald that Ordway’s salary — $500,000, down from $1 million a couple of years ago — was seriously out of whack with what local stations pay these days. Chad Finn of The Boston Globe reports that Ordway’s replacement, Mike Salk, is expected to make about $100,000.

We’ve already seen the dismantling of political talk radio in Boston. WTKK (96.9 FM) recently switched to music. WRKO (AM 680), which, like WEEI, is owned by Entercom, has cut way back over the years, to the point at which afternoon host Howie Carr is the station’s only highly paid star. The one exception to the downsizing trend on the commercial dial is Dan Rea’s evening show on WBZ (AM 1030).

Sports talk starts from a much higher ratings base than political talk, so perhaps Entercom is willing to spend some money to get WEEI back in the game. But it’s not only about ratings these days. It used to be that if you put up the numbers, the advertising would come rolling in. The ad business has changed considerably in recent years, and it’s not that simple anymore. There are plenty of non-radio options for people to listen to in their cars these days.

Ordway is talking about pursuing Internet options, and I wish him well. The challenge is that Internet radio doesn’t make money, and is generally used to promote something else. Consider the city’s two online alternative-music outlets. WFNX.com and RadioBDC exist to extend the brands of The Phoenix and the Globe’s Boston.com site, respectively. I don’t think anyone expects them to become profit-generating monsters.

As for the battle between WEEI and the Sports Hub, it could be that the most interesting sports talk you’ll hear over the next few weeks and months will be about the stations, not what’s on them.

Photo (cc) by uzi978 and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

WEEI gets back in the game

Much as I prefer the Sports Hub to the bitter old men of WEEI, I suspect John Dennis, Gerry Callahan and company are going to make up a lot of ratings ground very quickly once they start simulcasting on WMKK (93.7 FM) this coming Monday (Boston Globe story here; Boston Herald story here).

I don’t think anyone should underestimate how badly ‘EEI has been hurt by its miserable signal (AM 850) in the face of sports-talk competition from the Sports Hub, officially WBZ-FM (98.5). Yes, the programming on the Sports Hub is better, younger and funnier. But ‘EEI has been at a huge disadvantage. And it’s not without assets, principally Michael Holley plus Red Sox and Celtics games.

It’s not just that AM is fading from the scene — no worries, I suspect, at news-and-talk station WBZ (AM 1030), which has a nice, strong signal that can be heard in most places east of the Mississippi River after sundown. It’s that 850, weak and full of static, is almost unlistenable.

As for the simulcast, I give it a few months so that WEEI can promote 93.7. Once everyone has gotten the message, Entercom will probably do something else with 850 — although, frankly, it’s not good for much more than leasing it to a foreign-language religious broadcaster.

The Blutarsky theory of Red Sox futility

Blutto_20091013If you’re like me, you probably hadn’t thought about “Animal House” for many years, even though it is the greatest movie of all time.

So what were the odds of finding two Blutto Blutarsky references following the collapse of the 2009 Red Sox?

First, on Monday, the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy informed us, “In that moment, Papelbon was working on a string of 27 consecutive scoreless postseason innings. His career playoff ERA was John Blutarsky’s grade-point average: 0.00.”

Then, today, Gerry Callahan writes in the Boston Herald: “Guerrero flared a single to center, and just like that, the previous six months of Red Sox baseball was like Blutarsky’s seven years at Faber College: down the drain.”

Must be just a coincidence. (Thanks to Media Nation reader J.M.)

Follow the bouncing sports talkers

So why did the Boston Globe and WEEI Radio (AM 850) reach an agreement that will allow Globe sportswriters to appear on the station for the first time in years, as the Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly reported yesterday?

According to the Boston Herald’s Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, Globe sportswriter Tony Massarotti is about to jump ship to WBZ-FM (98.5 FM), the CBS-owned all-sports station that will begin competing with WEEI this fall. Massarotti was a constant on ‘EEI when he was with the Herald.

Bringing the Globe-‘EEI war to a peaceful conclusion would presumably open the way for (a) Massarotti to return to that station or, more likely, (b) beef up ‘EEI as it seeks to compete with a new afternoon show on WBZ-FM that would be co-hosted by Massarotti and Mike Felger, though it’s not entirely clear what is going on.

Weirdly enough, Globe sports-media columnist Chad Finn tweets that Globe writers will be allowed to phone in, but not be in the studio, for WEEI’s highly rated morning and afternoon drive programs, “Dennis & Callahan” and “The Big Show,” although an exception will be made if a Globie has a chance to co-host “D&C.” (Via Boston Sports Media.)

In looking over this item, it appears I may have only added to the confusion. My work here is done. You’re welcome.

A couple of Gates-related odds and ends

I want to make it clear right up front that I know neither of these tidbits speaks directly to the matter of Professor Henry Louis Gates versus Sgt. James Crowley. But I’ve been thinking about both of them, and have decided they’re worth passing on as being indicative of a certain cultural mindset.

First, can we agree that 1999 wasn’t that long ago? Good. Because it was during that year that the Cambridge Chronicle discovered the Cambridge Police Department was training its officers to believe Mexicans and members of other ethnic groups who routinely eat spicy foods were immune to pepper spray. Apologies ensued.

Second, why on earth would Crowley give his first major interview to John Dennis and Gerry Callahan on WEEI Radio (AM 850)? The officer was trying to make the case that he’s not a racist — and yet he talked with two guys who were once suspended for comparing black kids to “gorillas.”

I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that Crowley is a racist. On the other hand, the evidence that he’s “clueless,” as Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker put it yesterday, continues to build.

As for President Obama, his week was like the Red Sox’ — really bad, ending on an upbeat note, but leaving you wondering whether he can shore up some fundamental flaws (lack of message discipline, combined with a disconcerting habit of having to revise his remarks) that weren’t evident when he was winning.

Dennis, Callahan* and homophobia

People regularly tell me about the homophobic rants on “Dennis & Callahan,” on WEEI Radio (AM 850), but I rarely catch them in the act during the two- or three-minute increments in which I listen to them. I only stay when they’re actually talking about sports.

So let me pass along the BC Heights’ account of their loathsome shtick from earlier this week. As Adam Gaffin puts it: “I’d almost think Dennis and Callahan are closeted but … That would be an insult to gay men.”

*Update and correction: WEEI is so proud of the segment that it put the audio online. As it turns out, Gerry Callahan was out sick that day.

Callahan says he had throat cancer

WEEI Radio (AM 850) morning-show co-host Gerry Callahan today confirms longstanding rumors that his months-long absence in 2007 was due to serious illness. In his Boston Herald column, Callahan writes that he was being treated for throat cancer.

Bruce Allen notes that Callahan timed his announcement to coincide with the annual WEEI-NESN telethon for the Jimmy Fund. Good move — it will raise interest and could well result in more money for the Jimmy Fund.

Media Nation is no fan of “Dennis & Callahan,” with its snide putdowns of everyone to the left of Dick Cheney. But I wish Callahan well.